I Was Country, When Country Wasn't Cool

[Previous Rural Farmgirl, April 2009 – May 2010]

I was country…when country wasn’t cool…

If I had to choose one song that epitomizes me this would have to be it. Barbara Mandrel’s, “I was country”. (That or “Redneck Woman,” but that’s another post.) I wasn’t really one of the cool kids during high school, although since there were a total of 100 kids in K-12, I don’t know that we really had such a distinction. I had then, like I have now, a very eclectic group of friends, as eclectic as you can get in a small Eastern Washington town in the 1970s (late ’70s), when half the town was family.

“I was country when country wasn’t cool, from my hat down to my boots. I still act and look the same, what you see ain’t nothing new. I was country when country wasn’t cool.”
For me, those lines in the song are so true. I guess if anything has changed it would be that I am just more settled into it. But now it is once again cool to be “country.”
I sat in a Chamber of Commerce meeting this week where the speaker talked about “agri-tourism,” which to me is such an exciting discussion. I love that the pendulum is swinging back to where we all want to be more connected to our food than we have been. I credit people like MaryJane Butters, Willie Nelson and Michael Pollan for changing the conversation.
Even for those that have never left the rural life, we disconnected from the “land to the table” conversations, distracted by life and the convenience of grabbing ready-made meals and canned this-and-thats off the grocers’ shelves. I am as guilty as the next person. But the country girl in me always cried out to return to the roots that my heart knew. The standard that was so brilliantly set by the women in my life who got up early to make breakfast, and then clean up that mess just to head into the process of making harvest lunch for the entire crew. As young women we could get summer jobs helping out in harvest. Now with all the child labor laws it has become almost impossible for kids to get those memories and those much-valuable life lessons.
They call us country bumpkins for sticking to our roots, I’m just glad that we’re in a country where we’re all free to choose…
We are, you know, still free to choose. Any of us right here and now can choose to reconnect to the land. Even if we don’t have our three-acre mini farm, we can support those that do. Find a local CSA or rancher, join a cause like Farm Aid, or take a class. Grow something in a container. Support a local grower at the farmer’s market or join the farmgirl movement and sisterhood. Or if you are one of the lucky ones that have land, teach a class. Offer farm walks to the local grade school or FFA, 4-H or summer school programs; help kids get re-connected.
Someone once told me that money follows your heart. I had to stop and see what my spending habits were telling me about the condition of my heart. I took inventory of the priorities I had adopted, both knowingly and unknowingly. I then wrote down the top five things that mattered to me: family, friends, faith, community, and farming. Once I got that clear, I found that supporting “Corporate America” became less of a priority to me; my heart no longer wanted the malls and the designer bags. Instead, I longed for the cute handcrafted items a lady in the community made. I was willing to save to buy a side of grass-fed beef from a local rancher. I made friends with the local soap maker. I was willing to grow some vegetables and visit the local “u-pick,” and to trek down to the local farmer’s market in the rain…all things that speak to this country girl’s heart.
I was country when country wasn’t cool! And now that being country is cool again, I am glad that I stuck to my roots.

  1. Brandy says:

    I love Barbara! Yes, I too am glad that I "stuck to my roots" I have sewed all my life & my 2 girls would have been naked if they had not worn clothes that I made for them.
    My husband & I just planted our first garden in years & even if we only get 1 thing out of it, it was worth all the pain (2 over 50’s on hands & knees…you get the picture:-)!
    Can’t wait to meet you at Farm Fair!


    FarmFair is the place to be, for sure. Make sure to come find me, we will swap farmgirl stories!

  2. Marie Theriot says:

    I love all that you said. We do need to pay more attention to what we eat and support those around us. I am still looking for someone who grows peas and beans in my area. I remember shelling them as a young girl and complaining but what I would give to have some of those fresh veggies now. I love reading the Mary Jane Blogs and this is the first time that I post something. From Redd in Louisiana



    What an honor for me, to be the first time you posted. Thank-you. I think things like shucking corn and snapping peas on the porch is a great way to spend time. I think some of the best conversations come out of those moments.

  3. Hobbit says:

    Amen to that.I work at the oldest farm in America still owned by the same family since 1632.We have seen the wheel come around many times.This time I hope it isn’t given up in the name of progress.

    WOW, talk about roots!  That is so great! 1632 that’s a story worth telling!  I know what you mean, giving up never seems to be the best road to "progress" where the family farm is concerned. Thanks for posting I greatly appreciate it!

  4. oooooh, I was raised in Eastern Washington, too! I’m in Texas now, but long for the days when we’ll be back up north. I look forward to reading more on your blog. From one farm girl to another, -Anna.


    I just know we will be friends. With a name like sweetmissdaisy, how could I go wrong? Thanks for reading the post and I hope that you come back often.. your little "mental trip" to Washington State.

  5. Shron says:

    Rene – I was just thinking about this song the past week and thought to myself that it pertains to me and I’m happy that it pertains to you also. I’ve always been country. My husband says that I was born at least 100 years too late! It’s good to get back to your roots and remember how you were brought up. You know they say that you will never forget what you were taught as a child, you might stray from it, but eventually it will all come back to you. I’m happy that my Grandparents, both paternal and maternal, were hard working farm people in one way or another. I will never forget wading the creek to get to the garden and sitting in the middle of the tomato patch and munching tomatoes straight from the vine or the apple mud pies that I use to make under the apple tree in my Grandma’s back yard – they didn’t taste quite like hers but it was good practise. A few years ago I made an apple pie for a family get together and my Mom made the statement that it was as good as my Grandmas. What a compliment! Stick to your roots and keep up the good work.


    Thank you! I think that this song is one that plays in the minds of many of us farmgirls… an anthem of sorts. Your memories are so sweet, I feel like I was there too. I spent many an hour on the tire swing at my grandparents place, just watching the world pass by….. Love those old memories! Thank you for sharing yours with me!

  6. Reba says:

    Hello Rene, It is good to receive your blog as well as the City Farmgirls’. I have been a farmgirl at heart all my life, regardless of not having land to farm. I made all my daughters’ clothes (down to her underwear-that’s how serious about sewing that I was), curtains and crafts for my home (even smocked bedspread and curtains), and just generally had the mindset that I needed to make something. It was more about feeling that sense of accomplishment and having something different. My oldest sisters wanted to get away from homemade with "ready made" things and the latest craze. So I was called "old fashioned" (which I am very proud of too). Now reading Mary Janes’ magazines and your blogs, I realize there are "farmgirls" all across this land. And it is like meeting a new friend with a kindred spirit. My Mom was my No. 1 farmgirl. She quilted, embroidered, sewed, cooked, prepared food during the harvest to make sure that a family of 12 children had plenty to wear, eat, and things to do. We camped at the lake during one summer and actually my Mom canned green beans over an open fire in a washtub. Now that’s Country and Farmgirl to the max!! But I absolutely love it!! Always have. Thanks for taking time to write. It is fun to read.


    WOW, you are right, your mom is a farmgirls/farmgirl! I am with you, I love reading and "meeting" all the other farmgirls at MaryJanes as we somehow strengthen each other. I think canning green beans over the wash tub is brilliant, may need to try that one 🙂

  7. Gary says:

    Great Bloggie Rene’…!
    and very True…
    I grew up in the foothills of the Great Smokey Mountains, and am eager to return Home there, as my "Journey" of career is over. Life close to the land and shared daily with a variety of Critters, both domestic and wild, is a Good Life.
    Oh… a common expression arose from the ‘prank’ of Snipe Hunting": "Left holding the bag." Yep, I think everyone’s first "hunt" involves being left in the woods with a bag.
    GodSpeed to Y’all…!
    in Tampa

    Gary, "Welcome" and thanks for taking the time to pass that little pebble down. I want aware that "left holding the bag" had originated from such a deed.. but,I can certainly see how one would get that! as left holding the bag, I was….Guess I should be happy they didnt choose a gag that would be followed by "tarred and feathered" LOL  Thanks!  I can just picture you back in the Great Smokies.. what a great goal!

  8. BamaSuzy says:

    For some reason that very song was running around in my head and I was singing it as I fed and watered the goats, chickens, bunnies and ducks earlier this week! You may be several states away (I’m in north central Alabama) but we country girls have the same SOUL! Really enjoyed your blog!


    Thanks Suzy – I think that is the farmgirl anthem of sorts!  Love that song!

  9. Juliespins says:

    Hi Rene- I really enjoyed reading all about your background and "roots". I live in a small city but there’s this persistent little streak in me that joyfully springs to life at the sight of rolling fields and the smell of manure (I’m not kidding). I come from farm folks; I figure it’s literally in my blood. I especially liked the ‘money follows your heart’ passage… and when I do it’s a roadmap to self sufficiency; wool fleeces for spinning, supplies for soapmaking, and most recently new varieties of tomato seeds.

    Please keep writing, I know I’ll enjoy reading!!


    I will keep writing if you’ll keep reading 🙂

    There is truth that it is in "our blood" some how… I say that "dirt is in my veins".

  10. Frstyfrolk says:

    I am a wanna be farm girl! I did play with my friend on her farm when growing up and her family taught me a lot about being on a farm.

    Music is so imporatnt to me! It reinvents the happenings in my life as I remember where or what was happening when songs were popular.

    I love rock-a-billy, country and anything with good lyrics!
    I grew up in the Ozarks of Missouri, the Brenda Lee capitol and Ozark Mountain Daredevils much later.

    Thanks for the many reminders of songs that play in my heart. I recently lost my brother and the music is what helps remind me. Its memories help me so much day to day now.
    Smiles, Cyndi


    We are kindred spirits for use. I love Brenda Lee – How did such beautiful music come out of such a tiny instrument?  I would love to know. I am a HUGE rock-a-billy fan as well. The loss of a love one is hard, but music is a dear friend in those times as well!  Thanks again!

  11. Michele Kirkman says:

    Wow Rene’,
    I,m with you. I just feel disconnected if I go to the mall.
    I much prefer buying hand crafted from people I know or from Etsy.

  12. Florence says:

    My farm girl roots started when I was a little girl. My family were migrants in that we traveled from farm to farm to make a living. As I grew older things changed in my family dynamics and I went to live with a foster family in the country that had a pear orchard. With their family nurturing I have become the person I am today. I respect the earth and all she has to offer and have instilled that in my daughters, and my prayer is that they will pass it on to their children. So yes I was country when country was not necessarily cool.


    Thank You so much for sharing a little of your story with me. I too was a foster kid who’s life was changed.. here to those of us that have always thought Country was cool!

  13. Jamie Mercer says:

    I went to a school that had 32 students (9-12) and I had always wore wranglers and they teased me so bad. What gets me now is I am 43 and those guys now are wearing wranglers. What is up with that!! Love your blog and I can relate!! Jamie

    I know what you mean I think many of the pictures I have from back in the day were 501 button-up levi’s and white ts.. I was "styling".  Great to hear from you!  You set the "fashion" way back then.. you must have looked so great, it converted the rest of your classmates 🙂

  14. Susan says:

    Thank you for writing your blogs. They really hit home. We just moved to a smaller town with a really small yard and for the first time in years we’ve had a garden. It only took me 3 days to figure out why my shoulder and arms are sore. Thank goodness for farmer’s markets — aspargus and morel mushrooms. no room for chickens though. Keep writing and I’ll keep reading. (Growing up I learned to sew for 4-H and used my skills for years…when my son was small I made all our clothes except for workpants and bras…most of my family thought I was going overboard but it satisfied something.)


    I know what you mean, sore muscles… but boy it "hurts" good, right?  I just love our local farmers market here, too. I am growing a lot of stuff this year, but there is always something I "need" at the market…… thanks for posting!

  15. Claire says:

    Thanks so much for such a great blog! I look forward to hearing more in the months to come. I think you’re right on too about the "rural revival" that’s coming into fashion now. I long to connect back to my early years on big tabacco farm in Havana, Florida. Every wonderful memory and strong instinctual thing I feel centers in those years and experiences, however young I was. I’m on my way with my little mini farm now and I can’t wait for what the next day will bring in my farm girl life.

    Take care. Keep writing.


    Thank you so much! I love the concept of "rural revival" dont you? It gives me the mental pictures of community and folks sitting on their front porches sipping tea and chatting with neighbors. Taking strolls down the tree lined dirt roads and  really reconnecting with life and love and laughter….. sounds like a worth while revival to me…. Keep me updated on your mini farm… so cool!

  16. carol branum says:

    hi rene,I also was country before country was cool,and i agree with everyone on here,i could write and write,but i wont today, i just wanted to say,since no one commented yet, on how cute you were,that is you isnt it?Is that your husband?he is cute too.blessed be,the mo farmers daughter,carol branum


    Thank You!  That is me, "back in the day" and my best friend from HS. I feel blessed we have managed to be friends for a whole lot of years, but I am married to another cutie pie, I am sure he will get his mug on here sooner or later, but I will let my friend know 🙂

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